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Introduction and Course Description

In 1969, students at San Francisco State University and University of California, Berkeley launched massive protests at their respective campuses in demand for Ethnic Studies, an increased number of students of color, and a more diverse/representative faculty body.  Challenging the Eurocentric nature of the academy (America) and the systematic exclusion of faculty/students of color, the field of Ethnic Studies emerged through struggle, political organizing and resistance.  More than forty years later, this course challenges our assumptions of race, privilege and racism as well as the connected social constructs of gender, sexuality and class.  It pushes the conversation beyond the United States, looking at how race and racism exists in other parts of globe, emphasizing how globalization connect us in a myriad of ways.  Exploring a number of different sites in which racial meaning is created, articulated and challenged, we will come to see how central race (racism) is to the structural organization and lived experiences of our society.


In 2011, Washington State University instituted a series of changes to its general education requirements. Included within these changes was an alteration of its diversity requirement.  The new requirement reads as such:


The diversity requirement challenges students to critically analyze cultural differences and systems of inequality by learning about the diversity of human values and experiences.  This form of analysis assists cross-cultural (both within the United States and trans-national), communication and understanding, as well as personal development, by helping students to identify, analyze and propose alternatives to current systems of inequality and adapt empathically and flexibly to unfamiliar ways of being.

Specifically, Diversity courses should: (a) promote cultural self-awareness; (b) inform how culture is influenced by history, politics, power and privilege, communication styles, economics, institutionalized discrimination and inequality, and cultural values, beliefs and practices; (c) develop empathy skills that enable students to interpret intercultural experiences; (d) promote curiosity on the part of students to ask complex questions about other cultures and classes, and to seek out answers that reflect multiple cultural perspectives; or (e) encourage students to initiate and develop interactions with culturally different others


Broken into three distinct, but connected sections, this class examines diversity through a discussion of identity differences, inequality in privilege and opportunity, and other experiences that illustrate the range of human experience within our contemporary world. The initial portion of the class provides a foundational understanding of a number of different key themes and concepts.  It will allow us to gain an understanding of the ideas of race, privilege, racism, and institutional racism all concepts mentioned and discussed at great lengths in both public and private discourses, but rarely understood with the necessary critical depth.  For example, while the idea of “race” is used on a daily occurrence, more often than not people embrace a biological or a cultural approach (race as ethnicity).  However, we will approach the notion of race as a constructed idea that is central to American life and the tenets of white supremacy, capitalism and American nationalism.   We will also look at the social construction of race outside of the United States, reflecting on racialization, privilege, and inequality as it has manifested in other parts of the globe.


The second section of the course will provide an opportunity to think about the impact of difference, inequality, and racialization within a global economy.  Emphasizing how it not only impacts others but how we collectively connect to these larger social processes, this section will focus on how cultural, economic, racial, and other divisions impact us all, especially in patterns of consumption.   The third and final section of the course will focus on Affirmative Action, examining how race, stereotype, and privilege operate at the local level.  We will specifically reflect on the affirmative action in a global context, examining similar programs in other context all while thinking about privileges across varied racial boundaries.


Key Realities

It is important that everyone arrives in class with an open-mind, a critical gaze (a willingness to go beyond common assumptions) and most importantly a willingness and desire to read, attend class, and learn.  Without preparedness and reading skills (as well as a desire to engage in those elements of learning) this class will be a struggle. For those students who want to improve these skills, this class will facilitate that process.  For those who want a class that does not require thinking, that does not mandate completion of the reading, that sees attendance as superfluous, and is in all ways easy on the mind, this may not be the class for you.

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